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  • Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Well, That Explains a Lot...
November 14, 2007 - 6:14am

In the context of discussing ways to encourage her colleagues to try to reach students at different levels of demonstrated ability, Dr. Crazy inadvertently a very different issue:

"there are small changes that one can try to institute at a department level (somewhat under the radar) that increase the level of professorial engagement - like, for example, taking an administrative call for more transparent assessment as an opportunity to come up with assessment objectives that fall in line with hitting that lower third by framing it as 'this is what all majors should come away from courses with the ability to do.' This way, it's not an attack on specific individuals but rather the discussion becomes one of shared governance and about making the administration the enemy -- not students, not other faculty members."

It's worth rereading closely. "Taking an administrative call for more transparent assessment as an opportunity" -- that is, using the political space created by the administration - results in making the administration the enemy, as a strategic move.

You're welcome.

I have long held that much anti-administration grumbling is misplaced. It's an intellectually dishonest, but politically convenient, way to achieve other things. Much of it is not to be taken at face value.

In my naïve, early days of deaning, I used to try to respond point-by-point to the accusations directed at me. In time, though, I realized that point-by-point was missing the point. There's a kabuki element to many of the complaints, a ritualistic assuming-of-the-moral-high-ground that trumps the actual content. That's why detailed explanations of exactly how the complaints were inaccurate, silly, or even slanderous didn't make them go away. In addressing what they were saying, I wasn't addressing what they were doing.

The more successful administrators I've seen have developed the ability to listen quietly and impassively while having invective hurled at them for extended periods at point-blank range. (Good cops do this, too.) I suspect this explains the exponentially higher turnover rate of administrators, as opposed to faculty.

Even if you understand, cognitively, the organizational value of the 'lightning rod' function -- Tom Wolfe called it the "flak catcher" -- there are still times you're just not in the mood. And the staggering unfairness of not being allowed to hit back ("retaliation") can get to be a bit much.

The shame of it all is that the rest of Dr. Crazy's post is actually quite good, and constructive, and exemplary of exactly the kind of dialogue that I'd hope faculty on my own campus would have (and sometimes do). It's just a little disheartening to read, and see, that the discursive space to have that dialogue rests on slandering those of us who actually make it possible.


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